How to boost your energy through diet

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When you’re running low on energy, there’s always the temptation to simply up your caffeine intake or reach for other stimulants. The truth is, it’s much better to tweak your diet than choose a shortcut because the latter can do more harm than good.


Fresh and wholesome foods

Fresh, unprocessed foods will give you healthy, easy-to-digest energy and plenty of health-boosting nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are a must and they come with a bonus – they help to keep you hydrated. Wholegrains, such as wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta or brown rice, supply that long-lasting, steady energy release, while pulses give you healthy protein that’s needed to keep you on form.

Keep processed and junk foods to a minimum because not only are they nutrient-poor, they’re bad for your digestive system and can make you feel even more tired.


Choose the right fats

Part of the reason processed and junk foods aren’t good for you is their high fat content. Foods high in fat or added oils are more difficult to digest and drain your energy. It’s true that we need some fat in our diet but only small amounts so it pays to choose foods that contain the right fats.

Some foods are naturally rich in ‘good’ fats and also supply other vital nutrients. A daily handful of nuts and seeds is about the right serving size and can make you feel satiated but certainly not sluggish. Nuts and seeds supply good fats along with protein, vitamins and minerals.

When adding oils, virgin olive oil is best for cold dishes while rapeseed oil is best for cooking – one teaspoon to one tablespoon per portion is enough. Olive oil is full of antioxidants and rapeseed oil is a great source of omega-3s.


Balancing good and bad carbs

Good carbohydrates – carbs – are those that give you energy over a long period of time while bad carbs give you a quick burst of energy followed by a dip, which makes you want to reach for more bad carbs to keep your energy up. They make you overeat but still leave you tired.

Sources of good carbs are wholegrains, pulses (chickpeas, beans, lentils), fruits and vegetables while sources of bad carbs are sweets, white flour products, processed foods and sweetened drinks and snacks. It doesn’t mean you must never eat bad carbs – just be mindful of your intake. If you usually buy white bread, switch to wholemeal; if you have white rice, switch to brown; if you put sugar in your tea or coffee, reduce the amount and perhaps learn to have it sugar-free. If you have a sweet pastry daily, make it a weekly treat.


Up your iron intake

If you’re low in iron, you’ll feel constantly tired but while you can’t tell what your iron level is without a blood test, you can make sure you have plenty  of iron in your diet.

Best sources are wholegrains including oats and fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils, peas, tempeh, tofu, pumpkin and chia seeds, tahini, dried apricots, prunes, figs, broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, black treacle, cocoa, turmeric and thyme. So your body can more easily absorb iron from these foods, combine them with vitamin C sources, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi fruit, peppers, fresh greens or even potatoes.


Divide and conquer

To feel energised, it’s best to have smaller meals more frequently rather than two or three large ones. This way, your body will have a good, constant supply of energy without feeling weighed down. Plan ahead for your day and don’t skip meals.


The right stimulants

Caffeinated drinks, including energy drinks, lock you into a vicious circle of caffeine addiction and increase your stress levels because caffeine stimulates the release of stress hormones in your body. If you drink coffee, try to limit it to morning and early afternoon to give your body time to rest before bed.

To boost your energy levels, try warming spices, including ginger and chilli not just in foods but also as an ingredient in herbal tea. They help to increase your blood circulation and that, in turn, can help you feel energised.

Dark chocolate can be another healthy stimulant. It contains only a little caffeine and comes with a host of mood-enhancing natural chemicals, as well as iron and magnesium, both of which are needed for you to feel good. Chocolate should have at least 70 per cent cocoa content or you can use cocoa powder to make a chocolate drink.

And lastly, good old tea! Although it does contain caffeine, tea also contains a substance called L-theanine, an amino acid that helps to reduce anxiety and improves your mood! Another advantage is that tea leaves are a rich source of polyphenols – antioxidants linked to many of tea’s benefits. And remember, green tea always has less caffeine than black tea.


Don’t forget your vitamins

You need essential vitamins for your body to work well and have enough energy. All B vitamins are crucial for healthy energy metabolism and, aside from B12, a balanced vegan diet should supply them in good amounts. If you follow the advice above, you should automatically get enough through diet alone but if you feel run down, taking a B-complex supplement or simply upping your nutritional yeast intake can help. For B12, you always need a supplement to make sure you get enough – aim for 50 micrograms daily.

Lack of vitamin D can lead to fatigue so it’s important to take a supplement for that, too. In fact, it’s recommended that everyone should take a supplement from autumn to spring. The reason is that your skin produces vitamin D when exposed to unfiltered sunlight and in the colder months, there simply isn’t enough of it. A daily dose of 10 micrograms or 400 IU is sufficient.



Even a perfect diet cannot perform miracles if you’re not getting enough sleep or are stressed. At least seven hours of sleep is vital for your brain to function at its best and, ideally, you should take care of your mental health with some stress-management techniques. Sometimes, just stopping for five minutes to breathe can do wonders.


About the author
Veronika Prošek Charvátová
Veronika Prošek Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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